February 18, 2014
Luring Out Cancer
When I was young, I remember being told “when you cannot figure something out, try looking at it in a different way.” Relatively sound advice. Not all that original, too be sure, but it has worked for me. Stepping back, starting again from square one, viewing things under a new light, these are all ways in which we help ourselves understand a problem that we cannot fully grasp. This is true no matter what the problem you are trying to solve. It could be math, mechanical, or even brain surgery.
That is exactly what Ravi Bellamkonda, Anjana Jain, and a team at Georgia Tech and Emory University did when trying to find a better way to treat Glioblastoma multiforme cancer (GBM), a form of brain cancer that has proven highly resistant to treat with conventional drugs. In addition, it is highly aggressive as well as invasive and will often develop in regions of the brains that can be very risky to operate on. Many times, even if the primary tumor is removed safely, the cancer will have already spread to other regions of the brain. So, instead of relying on the more “tried-and-true” methods of cancer treatment, the team formulated an idea to draw out the cancer using the nature of the cancer cells against itself. The malignant tumor cells normally follow nerve fibers and blood vessels to invade new areas, but what the research team has come up with is a strand of nanofibers no thicker than the human hair that draw in the cancer cells and direct them to other areas of the body that are easier to treat. These nanofiber stands act as a path of least resistance for the cancer cells, which is what draws them to it, and then they follow the path laid out for them. Not a cure, in-and-of itself, but a cautionary measure that will allow doctors to remove the cancerous cells more safely.
While still a long way off from human trials, this new form of treatment is looking promising. Once it has been submitted to the FDA, it could still take as long as ten years to get approval for human trials. So far, the next step in the research is to test this method with other forms of cancer to see if it might have more wide-spread potential applications. The overall goal is, as always, a cure which this treatment cannot give, but what it does allow is for a safer form of treatment to take place than would otherwise be possible. It allows for patients to have a better chance at living happy, normal lives despite this terrible affliction.
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